Air Force Pilot Shortage Grows


The U.S. Air Force is now short 2,000 pilots, said Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, at the Pentagon’s annual State of the Air Force presentation Thursday. The Air Force had previously reported being short-staffed by 1,500 pilots, but said the number would grow due to an inability to train new pilots at the rate they are departing. Secretary Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein blame the shortage on sequestration coupled with the surge tempo of an indefinite war. “If we go through another sequester again, a 2,000-pilot [shortfall] will be a dream,” says Secretary Wilson. “We’re burning out our people because we’re too small for what the nation is asking.”

A factor in the exodus of aviators has been the ease with which former military pilots are finding jobs at U.S. airlines with better pay and less time away from home. And while Congress has given the Air Force additional money to pay pilot retention bonuses, Goldfein says money is not the key problem: “If we’re going to retain these pilots, it’s going to be about reconnecting to the value proposition.” In his public statements, Goldfein often refers to the value proposition of an Air Force career as being about working with highly skilled people on meaningful missions. Goldfein and Wilson warn that as the pilot shortage worsens the demands on those that remain grow worse with each passing month. Goldfein said, “If we cannot move past sequester in its current form, we’re going to break this force.”